I love TBEX, this is my sixth, and I’ve learnt that armed with a little strategy, you can achieve positive ROI from a conference like this. This ROI (return on investment) is one that can pay off significantly for years to come in terms of developing your career and business.
To make the most of your time and financial investment, here’s four areas I now consider, starting well before I head off to a conference…
- Why are you attending – what do you want to get out of time?
There’s plenty of great reasons to attend a conference, and chances are you already have a pass if you’re reading this. Obvious return on investment that you might seek as I do, is new tips to improve your work, learning that accelerates personal and professional growth, or finding actual customers.
Other benefits include meeting people who might become future business partners, employers, mastermind collaborators or mentors, and even friends who end up providing ongoing understanding and support for your endeavours.
It’s helpful to consider your answers to these questions:
- What’s the bigger picture? What do I want to get out of life/career/business and how can the conference help me get there?
- Who can help?Make a wish-list of brands, experts, presenters and dream a little on best-case scenarios. Write down who you would like to meet and why, then go for it (although, don’t be too attached to specific outcomes, always be open to opportunities).
- What do I need to learn?You can’t feasibly attend every session at a conference, so determine in advance where your knowledge gaps lie in terms of your own goals, and attend those sessions.
- What is my story?Practice your answers to what you do and who you serve through your blog, vlog or work.
- Pre-network (you don’t have to turn up as a stranger)
TBEX makes use of event Facebook groups and event hashtags on all the major channels. If you’ve not already, start interacting today. And if any of the speaker profiles pique your interest, why not retweet or share what’s being promoted by the conference or attendees. Get social, and let people know that you’ll see them there!
You can also potentially use these channels to find out who is around before the conference. For example, we’re going to be in Prague the weekend before TBEX Ostrava and have set up a TBEX meet-up on the Saturday night via the group’s Facebook page. Looking forward to meeting some new people then!
- Conference: maximizing your time
We’ve discovered that it’s important to leave scope for the unexpected – wander around outside some session times, speak to the exhibitors if they’re free, and take advantage of social events (which are brilliant at TBEX). You could even use the social communities to set up your own meet-ups, like a morning running group.
Invite opportunity into your world by making the most of networking. Be approachable – get off your phone, and never just swoop in with a business card. Be conversational and try to talk to different people during the event.
Try to connect with new people and get to know them on a personal level. See if you can discover what hobbies, work, people, background or interests you have in common. And most importantly, listen. Ask questions, be interested and helpful, and listensome more. Stuck for question starters? Try:
- How did you get started in blogging/content/vlogging/speaking/production/marketing?
- What brings you to the conference?
- Who are you excited to meet?
- What’s the most important project you’re working on or one you’re excited about? (maybe you can offer help in some way).
At TBEX in Stockholm, Cooper (my partner and blogging partner) and I met some amazing creatives who we now count as friends, and we all support each other when we spot activity on social media. Networking at conferences has opened doors for me too – paid clients, and great trips. A friend who I had met at a conference in Australia recommended me to a charter flight company in north Queensland a few years back, and out of that came an awesome trip to the tip of the country, Cooktown, that we would never have been able to pursue without the connection.
Connecting with speakers is motivating, but I’ve made the huge error before of not being prepared (at all). Putting myself in their shoes, I can appreciate they’re swamped after a presentation – all in good nature of course, because people have been inspired by what they’ve said. But, if you’re going to make an approach, don’t just hand over a card. Going back to point two, if you can pre-network in some way so a speaker can identify you, that’s a great way to start. If the time is right, you could mention how you might add value – can you provide them with more exposure via your blog or podcast, for example?
On a number of occasions, I’ve gotten quite tired and have gone back to the hotel for a break. Then I fell asleep. Not the best use of my time, really. Now, I try to balance my energy levels – eat well, drink lots of water, wear comfortable shoes; and I remember my chargers plus all daily necessities so there’s no excuse to go and hide back at the hotel ‘for a break’. That said, I do build in ‘me’ time and breaks during conferences – it’s important because there’s a lot of people and a lot of brain power being used, so do what you need to do to avoid overwhelm.
- Keep the momentum going: conference follow-up
So you’ve got as far as meeting new people, finding common ground and maybe even talking some future business. What then?
There’s plenty of ‘etiquette rules’ out there on following up after networking events and conferences, but a model that makes sense to me is to follow up with your new contacts within about 24 hours, then again in about 24 days (or a month); make sure you share with your new connections what you promised, and add a reminder into your email about what you spoke about.
Above all when networking and following up, be human. It’s ok to be shy, reserved, introverted or unsure of what to say. Be honest about it – you can be sure that others know the feeling well!
Any tips of your own? We’d love to hear them in the comments